[15 October 2008]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Dungen’s compositions have always been a little unruly. Ta Det Lungt and Tio Bitar were both full of big guitars and blissed-out psychedelic jams, and both were excellent, even if they were overstuffed. It wasn’t that Dungen couldn’t be precise with their songs, it was that precision wasn’t the goal. Expansion was, and they succeeded plenty.
But 4 is a different story altogether. It is nothing if it is not precise. Clocking in around 37 minutes, with every track managing to stay under the five minute mark, the album sheds the band in a completely different light. They step out of the smoke and haze of their old compositions and show off the individual parts. They also focus a little more on song structures here, making 4 their most immediate record to date.
But immediacy doesn’t always give way to lasting returns. Too often bands who specialize in heavy layers of sound lose their way when they pare things down, when their focus moves from sound to song. That is not a trap Dungen falls into here. They’ve made their best record yet, one that doesn’t sacrifice any variety in its more stripped-down approach. In fact, opener “Satt Att Se”, with its moody piano, jazzy drums, and the echo of crunchy guitar notes, seems like much more of the same. But then Gustav Ejstes’s vocals come in, and the difference becomes clear. His voice is free of the heavy dips of reverb we heard of previous records, and it’s a little higher up in the mix. In fact, there is more distinction between piano and guitar, and a nice clarity to the rhythm section on the track, so not everything is meshed together in a psychedelic fuzz.
“Maleras Finest” moves even further away from the crunch, driving the song on straight piano and flute and the occasional flourish of strings. It’s a simple arrangement, but still as effective as it is threadbare, calling to mind the Byrds and their ilk. The piano takes a prominent role on the album, in fact, leading the way on “Fredag”, another instrumental that relies on the keys to pull it along, until the guitar comes in with ringing chords that don’t take over for the piano, but bolster it. And “Finns Det Nagon Mojlighet” is pure bouncy piano-pop, the catchiest number the band has written to date.
Throughout 4, Dungen prove themselves to be a great band, and great songwriters, not just great noise-smiths. Ejstes’s vocals stay clean through most of the record, and actually sound warmer without the reverb. The spaces in these songs, where the hazy fuzz used to be, invites the listeners in more, making the record more intimate than its predecessors.
But all this pop sensibility doesn’t mean they don’t know how to wail. “Samtidigt 1” and “Samtidigt 2” are both extended guitar solo pieces, with the strings bending and wailing, screeching from some high cliff into a low canyon, while the funky rhythm section stomps through the muck and mire down below. And the crunch of guitars come in just in time to bail out the overly precious beginning to “Mina Damer Och Fasaner”.
But that one minor misstep is the only complaint on this amazing piece of psych-pop. It’s nice to see a muscled band like Dungen turning toward craft and away from volume. It started with the more understated sound of Tio Bitar, but with the downright catchy songs on 4, the band looks to have reached the height of its powers. Either that, or they’ve just arrived at this new sound and are just getting started. If that’s the case—and knowing the band’s huge talent, it could be—then watch out. Because now that Dungen have reigned their sound in a little, they have really cut loose.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/dungen-4/